Foreign domestic workers in Hong Kong

Hong Kong’s domestic helpers reveal hunger horror stories in appeal to increase food allowance

Helper representatives ask for food allowance to double along with a 24.7 per cent increase in their monthly wage during annual meeting with Labour Department

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 08 August, 2018, 7:04am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 14 August, 2018, 12:03pm

Migrant domestic workers in Hong Kong on Tuesday told stories of eating instant noodles, leftovers, and only vegetables with no meat as they appealed to the Labour Department to mandate a rise in their monthly wages and food allowances.

At their annual meeting with the authorities, 15 representatives from two of the most active maids’ groups asked for their food allowance to double from HK$1,053 a month to HK$2,500, along with a 24.7 per cent increase in their monthly wage to HK$5,500.

By law, Hong Kong employers need to provide food for domestic workers who must live with them, or give them a cash allowance for food.

The city employs about 380,000 maids, with slightly over half from the Philippines.

Eman C Villanueva, spokesman of Asian Migrants’ Coordinating Body said maids believed the demand was fair.

“We are just asking for the bare minimum based on the living standard,” he said.

Sringatin, chairwoman of the Indonesian Migrant Workers’ Union said maids rarely got to decide what to eat during the week.

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“We can only eat what employers buy,” she said.

“Sometimes employers don’t even allow domestic workers to cook their own food because it is smelly or it is too spicy.”

Outside the Labour Department’s office in Harbour Building, about 30 domestic workers protested in support of the wage increase, which most employers oppose as unfair, as it will force up their household costs.

A Filipino woman said when she first arrived in the city six years ago, she had a “devastating experience” with her employer, who insisted she eat only food that had been in the fridge for five days. She also had to eat leftovers from the family’s meals when they did not use serving spoons.

“I couldn’t take it, so I’d be starving all night,” she said, adding she would eat biscuits she had brought from the Philippines with water to fill her stomach.

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Reyna Malana, a Filipino helper who had been in the city for almost seven years, said a cash allowance for food of HK$1,035 was insufficient.

“If you divide the money, every day we can only use around HK$35, meaning a little more than HK$10 per meal. You can’t buy food with this amount of money [in this city],” she said.

The groups that went for the meeting with authorities said the Labour Department did not commit to making any changes.

The department, in response to queries, said it reviews the minimum wage and food allowance for foreign domestic workers regularly.

“We need to strike a balance between the livelihood of [these workers] and the affordability [issue] for employers when considering amendments,” it said, pledging to continue to listening to different views.

On Monday, two concern groups released a survey of 1,000 Filipino helpers that found they were spending more on loans and fees to recruitment agencies and on living costs compared with five years ago, resulting in them remitting home a smaller percentage of their monthly wages.

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